Monday, January 23, 2012

Lighting the Way

“As we light a path for others, we naturally light our own way”
Mary Anne Radmacher

It’s easy to get lost.  It’s easy to get turned around and lose direction.  When your world’s been shaken to the core, finding which way is up is sometimes impossible.

I have a family member, a young man, who has found trouble again and again.  To the point of finding himself in jail a couple of times.  As I type this post, he is incarcerated.

The Man has a close friend who has been in-and-out of the prison system over the last fifteen years.  It’s disheartening to know that this pattern (in too many cases) is circular.

I’ve learned from The Man.  He has never given up on his friend.  The Man writes letters to him faithfully.  The Man sends him money orders, so his friend can buy various personal items in the prison commissary (like special soap…yeah, it surprised me too).  Since the only way to make a call from the pokey is collect to a telephone land-line, The Man ensures that we have one so his friend can call and chat once a week.  If truth be told, The Man is the only stable person in this guy’s life.

When my own young man landed in jail the first time, I was upset: “Angry,” to be truthful.  I was angry because I thought that he had not listened to my “words of wisdom.”  His addiction to trouble and drugs was something that we all thought could be overcome outside of the system.  Not so.
Where Rule #1 is “Be nice,” I had forgotten Rule #2: 
“Listen, try your best to understand.  And if you can’t understand, just listen.”

When my young man first went to jail, I visited him at the facility.  I talked with him through the cloudy plexiglas divider.  I was able to make it a couple of minutes into the conversation, and then I started crying.  He smiled and quickly changed the subject to ask about a rock concert that he knew I’d recently attended.  Then he proudly showed me his new prison tattoo.  God love him.

It hurt.  Badly.  I couldn’t hug him hello.  I couldn’t hug him good-bye.  I couldn’t good-naturedly knock him on his head and tell him to “Shape up!”

A few short months later, he was released.  He kept his nose clean for a while.  And then found trouble once more.  And to the facility again, about two months ago.

I wrote him a letter back in early January.  My communication was sharp and forceful.  I had to write and rewrite the letter four times over before it became a bit more pleasant and compassionate.  I wasn’t sure I’d get a response. 

Just a couple of days later, I received a letter from him.  He had been very excited to get my letter, comparing it to a Christmas present.

Like The Man with his close friend, I will always be there for my own young man. 

I remember taking him to New Orleans when he was four.  At night, we rode the ferry from Canal Street over to Algiers with him holding my hand as we stood at the rail;  I recall that he stared down at the dark water swirling alongside the boat and back at the lights of the French Quarter.  He looked up to me and smiled. “This is so cool.”

I'll always be there for him.  If just to hold the light to help guide the way.  After all, he is part of my own blood, part of my heart, part of my soul.

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